Work & Bio

Frank Armington

Born in 1876
 / Died in 1941

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Born at Fordwich, Ontario, son of M.J. and Alice Evelyn (Strathy) Armington. At the age of two he came down with spinal meningitis which weakened his heart especially in later years. He attended Toronto Public Schools and a boys’ private school. He began his art studies under J.W.L. Forster in Toronto in 1892 and continued with the noted portrait painter for seven years. At Forster’s classes he met Caroline Wilkinson, his future wife. In 1899 with his mother and sister Vivian, Frank headed for Paris via New York City, and Antwerp. Caroline accompanied them as far as New York where she worked as a nurse. In 1900 Frank enrolled in classes at the Académie Julian, Paris, under Benjamin Constant and John-Paul Laurens. His focus was on painting. Caroline who had gone back to Toronto to continue to work as a nurse, later joined the Armingtons in Paris. On September 6, 1900, Frank and Caroline were married in the American Baptist Church in Paris. Shortly afterwards they returned to Canada and lived at Sault Ste. Marie in a house they built and later sold at a twenty-five percent profit. With this extra cash they were able to move to Winnipeg. There, Frank worked for the Winnipeg Tribune and Caroline gave private lessons. In 1903 Frank switched to teaching at Havergal College, a girls’ school, and this same year became a founding member and first V-P of the Manitoba Society of Artists. In 1904 he completed several important portrait commissions: R.P. Roblin (Premier of Manitoba), Horace Crawford (lawyer) and others. He was also painting prairie landscapes in the style of French Impressionists. He exhibited his portraits and landscapes at the Winnipeg Industrial Exhibitions of 1902, 1903, 1904, and 1905. The Armingtons thought a brighter future awaited them in Paris, so they returned there in 1905. They both attended the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. Frank studied under Gustave Courtois and Raphael Collier and sat in on other classes. Then he re-entered the Académie Julian under Henri Royer, Benjamin Constant and Jean-Paul Laurens. One of his paintings was accepted by the Salon d’Automne in Paris and his work was accepted for several annual Salon exhibitions from then on. In 1906 Frank began to etch with the guidance of a friend, Maurice Achener. In this medium he did scenes of Paris, Rouen, Vernon, Estaples, Ville d’Avray and Charenton, haunts of many artists including the French Impressionists. He took to etch­ing exceptionally well as did his wife Caroline two years later. He won an Honourable Mention for his etchings at the Salon des Artistes Français, Paris, in 1908. That year too, he received a silver medal for painting at the Exposition Industrielle Internationale in Toulouse. The next year he visited Germany where he did etchings of Munich, Rothenburg and Nürnberg. In 1910 the National Gallery of Canada purchased four of his early etchings, scenes near Ville d’Array, Vernon, Bruges and Paris. He pressed his etchings on buff Japan paper and wove paper. He made a significant donation (among his others), of 38 etchings to Musée du Luxembourg. In Canada the Armingtons held a joint show of etchings at Johnson & Copping’s Art Rooms in Montreal then at the Nova Scotia Museum of Fine Arts in Halifax. In 1911 the National Gallery of Canada purchased three more of his etch­ings. He travelled across Canada with his wife on a CPR commission from which one of the works was published in the CPR book, Sixty Days in Canada. Both Armingtons produced pictures from this commission in the following months. Throughout his career Frank donated works to important museums and institutions which helped make his art more acceptable to the collector. In 1912 the Armingtons with Frank’s mother, travelled in Italy and visited Florence and Venice. The three then went on to Algeria where Frank did character studies. In 1913 they returned to Algeria. When W.W. I broke out their artistic lives were disrupted. Frank served as an orderly with the American Ambulance unit in Paris and during his off time he etched scenes in the life of the unit. Caroline his wife, also served with this unit as a nurse. In 1915 Frank donated 28 etchings to the New York Public Library. In 1916 and 1917 painting was his prime concern and he made no etchings. In 1917 he held a major show at the Galeries Georges Petit of oils and water colours which were later praised by La Revue Moderne. Especially mentioned was his Boulevard des Capucines done in different seasons. In 1920 his painting of the noted Belgian ballerina Yetta-Rianza entitled La Danseuse Yetta Rianza was purchased for the Musée Nationale du Luxembourg from the exhibition Paris moderne. Later this painting was transferred to the Musée Nationale d’art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, in Paris. During the 1920’s Frank began to experiment with lithography which suited especially his needs to depict evening scenes of foggy or wet weather and lent itself to the impressionist style which he most favoured. A. McKenzie Brockman in his book Caroline and Frank Armington (1985) noted that the Armingtons’ sales records and guest book show that many American and Canadian tourists came to view and buy their work including many famous personali­ties. Frank was not too concerned with the business of selling paintings or keeping records. Fortunately Caroline kept the records and promoted their work. She left enough detail so that historians, biographers and writers can piece together something of their lives, work and achievements. In 1924 Frank had a second solo show at Galeries Georges Petit, then he and his wife were off to North America to travel and promote their work. They continued to show in solo and joint shows in the years that followed. Frank produced a fine series of nude etchings and in 1928 the Library of Congress purchased fourteen of his etchings including seven nudes. They paid a visit to Caroline’s home in Brampton where a large reception was held for them. Then they were off to visit Sweden. In 1929 they held their first major joint show at the Art Gallery of Toronto (AGO) followed by a tour in the U.S. In 1931 he did a lithograph, American Church In Paris and donated the glass plate to the Church which in later years it used on its Sunday morning bul­letin. He also painted the portrait of the Church’s minister Dr. J.W. Cochran for the Church’s reception room. In 1931 a member of the Board of Governors, A.W. Jenkins of the Brooklyn Museum, presented his painting of a Manhattan skyline to the Musée du Jeu de Paume in Paris. Between 1934-35 both Armingtons continued to travel in France and Italy and the following year in the Holy Land in preparation for Frank’s triptych Christ on the Mount of Olives. They did sketches, etchings, and made a pilgrimage, being devout Christians, to locations mentioned in the Holy Bible. The focus for the trip was their sketches on the Mount of Olives where they looked out over the City of Jerusalem. After their return to France and the completion of Frank’s mural (9 ft. 6 in. high by 9 ft. 10 in. wide), the work was installed behind the altar of the American Church in Paris. In 1939 war clouds interrupted their lives once more. Both were approaching their mid-sixties so they decided to flee to North America. Before leaving Paris, Frank spent several afternoons destroying canvases so that they would not fall into the hands of the Nazis. After arriving in New York the Armingtons settled in the Grosvenor Hotel on Fifth Avenue. Three days later Caroline died. He had depended on her for his daily injections for his heart. Their life was a story of harmony and love. Apparently he could not bear being lonely and remar­ried. His second wife, Jessie F. Clark Armington (former Mrs. J. Howard Braxton) had been a friend of the couple. They continued to live in the same apartment of the Grosvenor Hotel. Barely two years later, Frank died in the same apartment where Caroline had died. When his second wife moved away with her daughter in 1943, the Armington papers (Caroline & Frank’s) and photographs were destroyed. Two books as a result of diligent research have thrown light on their personal lives and work: first a charming publi­cation by McKenzie Brockman entitled, Caroline And Frank Armington a small book published by the Montreal Print Collectors Society; a second and larger publication made possible through the efforts of individuals who knew them, historians, curators, plus contacts and resources of the Peel County Historical Society, the Peel County Museum and Art Gallery and the author, Janet Braide who died before the book had been finished. The work was completed over a further two-year period by Nancy Parke-Taylor, entitled, Caroline and Frank Armington, Canadian Painter-Etchers in Paris (1990) published by the Art Gallery of Peel. A third work in the Toronto Star (1990) by Donald Jones for his column Historical Toronto made popular the Armington story. The Armingtons between them produced around 700 prints in editions of fifty, seventy-five and one-hundred.Colin S. MacDonaldA Dictionary of Canadian Artists, volumes 1-8 by Colin S. MacDonald, and volume 9 (online only), by Anne Newlands and Judith Parker
National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada